Paris -- Startup Coupling Wave Solutions is aiming to address chip design signal integrity challenges with software that can analyze noise from multiple sources and across a complete chip.
The French company's initial product, dubbed Wave Integrity, not only performs a thorough noise analysis, but claims also to ensure noise immunity by fixing design problems. The software platform is able to characterize the source of noise as well as measure and quantify its impact on the victim cell in complex ICs, said Brieuc Turluche, CWS' co-founder, chairman and CEO.
The Wave Integrity software has already been put out for evaluation with a select set of customers. It will be introduced more broadly in April.
Recent studies by Gartner Inc. and Collett International Research suggest that the "wrong-first-time" silicon failure rate has reached about 60 percent, with design respins adding cost and months of development time. Noise is often the source of problems.
"At the 65-nanometer node, each redesign costs approximately $2 million and takes between four and six months," said Turluche. In some cases, as many as five redesigns could be necessary for the system to become operational, with obvious cost implications as well as the bigger risk of losing the market lead due to a delayed introduction.
"Signal integrity problems are now a key cause for redesigns, representing about 50 percent of them," Turluche said, recalling that STMicroelectronics had identified help with signal integrity as a key requirement and urged the creation of CWS in 2004.
The desire to use advanced process technologies is strong for the obvious benefits of reduced die area, increased performance and reduced cost. However, deep-submicron design poses particular noise and signal integrity problems when analog, RF and digital blocks are integrated. In some cases, substrate noise results in design failures and poor yields of mixed-signal system-on-chip or system-in-package (SiP) designs.
CWS can trace its origins back to Snaketech SA, a French verification company created in 1996. Snaketech was acquired in March 2000 by the California-based Simplex Solutions Inc., which was itself acquired early in 2002 by Cadence Design Systems Inc. One year later, Cadence reduced its global workforce by 10 percent, closing its French development site in the industrial zone of Voiron, near Grenoble, where Snaketech had been based.
Cadence's move came despite the fact that STMicroelectronics had been working with the Grenoble team for two years. At the end of 2003, ST called on Turluche to take the reins of the project. He soon met François Clément, the founder of Snaketech and developer of Cadence's SubstrateStorm substrate noise analysis tool, and the two decided to launch Coupling Wave Solutions. Clément is now the startup's CTO.
Just as the fledgling company was testing its wings, EDA engineers were also becoming available as a result of restructuring plans implemented at Silvaco International Inc., a provider of technology computer-aided design software, and at Nassda Corp., provider of full-chip circuit verification software for complex semiconductors, which at the time was being acquired by EDA leader Synopsys Inc. "We managed to gather exceptional expertise in design," said Turluche.
Turluche emphasized that for a correct analysis, all components that are put on the silicon substrate need to be taken into consideration. Substrate analysis on its own is not sufficient. Turluche said that noise interference is a common problem linked to substrate coupling, interconnection coupling and package coupling, and that all the elements must be analyzed simultaneously by one unified application. Until now, such analysis has been done using tools from multiple vendors that separately analyze these coupling paths, Turluche said. "CWS is the only one to offer a complete solution that is treating the problem as a whole," he claimed.
While companies such as Cadence commonly focus on the analysis of digital signal integrity, Turluche said that CWS' added value lies in its ability to address the analog, RF and digital challenges that appear with new manufacturing process technologies. "Wave Integrity is the obvious solution for future process technologies," he said. "It is up and running at the 90-nm, 65-nm and 45-nm technology nodes and is designed to go down to 32 nm and beyond."
Turluche also said the technology has no process limitations. It works with CMOS, silicon-on-insulator and gallium arsenide technologies.
CWS has an unusual shareholding model, having received funding from EDA industry executives and from the European electronics industry, Turluche said. "Our shareholders are all key players on the international EDA scene. They know about tomorrow's challenges. They acknowledged the problem we are addressing," he said. Among the investors is Paul Gibson, general manager and vice president of sales of Zenasis Technologies Inc. in Europe.
CWS has not approached venture capitalists. "I knew the danger of having venture capitalists [on board]," said Turluche. "It was my choice to stay away from them, and I hope to delay their entry as long as possible to be able to set my conditions and not to bear theirs."
Following that logic, Turluche has identified two possible paths for CWS. The company could either end up being acquired by one of the EDA leaders or could make its way through to organize an initial public offering. The choice of the Grenoble area for the company's headquarters was purely practical and stemmed from the "ideal infrastructure of the Grenoble area and its breeding ground of talent," Turluche said.
The proximity of STMicroelectronics also played a key role. "France represents 3 percent of the global [annual] EDA market, amounting to $4 billion," Turluche said. "It appears that 80 percent of the French EDA market is in the hands of STMicroelectronics. This major player rules the market. It supports national EDA startups and helps them to validate their technological concepts. Without ST, there would not be such a burgeoning of ideas."
Turluche said he expects CWS will post revenue of $2 million in 2007, rising to $10 million in 2008. His forecasts are based on an estimate that the annual market for analog, digital and RF signal integrity analysis represents $400 million. Turluche said CWS is encouraged by the positive feedback it has received from companies testing its software.
CWS plans to set up a sales office with application engineers in the United States, and in Japan soon after. Its workforce, now numbering 14 employees, should reach its objective of 20 in the next few months, Turluche said.
Anne-Franoise Pele is Paris editor for EE Times Europe, a sister publication.